Solid Like a Riverbed

Riverbed once came out with the first product for optimizing and accelerating applications over WAN. Many years and successes later, Taj Elkhayat talks about the company’s work in the Middle East and their plans for the future


You boast quite the resume working for Juniper, Microsoft, and Compaq. What did you learn there that helped you here?

Each company gave me a different view of the business. Compaq was very strong in channel, as it was how they did 98% of their business. I was the product manager for the first mobile device Compaq came up with in the US.


At Microsoft, the key thing was how do you influence people because you were working with enterprises and governments that at times did not believe in legal software. When I was there in the 2000s, I was living in Kuwait and my task was to go and help legalize those enterprise customers from pirated software to buying Microsoft. I had to learn a lot of negotiation and influencing skills. They were big in terms of how to take top-down messaging and execute it. The fantastic thing about them was that they really empowered the field.  They would give you the corporate message but also give you free reign on how to make the best benefit out of it.


At Juniper, my task was to basically reestablish their business. They were very strong in the service provider space but their enterprise business, which they got into through their acquisition of NetScreen, was still young. They wanted to establish it so I obviously made the most of my background and applied it there. We moved from 8% revenue contribution to 45%, depending less on the service provider and growing the enterprise business instead.


So, is what you do like helping entrepreneurs by being entrepreneurs yourself?

Correct. It’s how I hire at Riverbed now. I make sure they have two important qualities. One is high EQ which is very important to the culture I’ve built here. The other is having that entrepreneurial streak. We are expanding rapidly, and we have a team responsible for all the geographical coverage that we do. Employees need to be able to ensure that they are working with partners in the correct way, which is in unison. From our perspective, that should be in our DNA.


You’ve worked with channels and anti-piracy groups internationally. When you moved here, did you find enough awareness about those matters?

The toughest task for me when I moved here, was to go after the mid-market enterprise customers. Large corporations understood that it would soon be time to leverage legal software, but mid-market organizations, which range from 5-250 employees and are abundant, were a different case. In the UAE alone you have 5000-6000 mid-market clients and it doesn’t change much in the rest of the GCC. There was a strong governmental push at that time to build a solid foundation for start-ups, especially in Bahrain with the Bahrain Economic Development Board who were striving to create a simpler way for organizations to begin their registration. The people had to understand that legal software impacts your credibility. Especially when the world trade agreement stared taking place, it became a mandate that a certain percentage of piracy had to be reduced and that helped us a little bit. The education was the toughest in the first 18 months but we needed to do that in order to be where we needed to be.


In what other ways was the tech culture here different?

You have different experiences in different parts of the GCC. In the UAE, because of the presence of the expatriates, people knew things about technology. But if you went to Bahrain or Oman, you would see that technology was behind the curve. The dynamics were different and you have to remember that every region started at a different momentum. But by 2007, all regions were at the same level in terms of technology adoption, ICT, government agendas, agreements with vendors etc. Interestingly, it happened when the financial crisis took place. The reason I believe that most countries here didn’t really get the impacted by the recession was because most people were relying more and more on technologies like video-conferencing, voiceover IP, and remote connections to get their business done. They didn’t have to travel as much as before so they were able to do their jobs efficiently using technology. That enabled all these countries to think about how they could take their national ICT economy to the next level, and until the market stabilized, vendors and governments worked hand-in-hand.


What kind of risk do you think will affect the cyber world in this coming year?

Anything ‘Internet’ is a risk because for you to be able to secure the use of internet, there are policies, people, and products governed by cyber laws. Interaction today is very virtual rather than personal. In the social media age, you cannot control what somebody else will post online or whether or not they would tag you and associate you with something you have no link to. That’s a very small example of the bigger magnitude of risk.


Is that more pressure for application developers?

Absolutely. There are now a lot of IoT startups in the region. Enterprises today are increasingly reliant on applications running their businesses. It has developed this understanding that application performance equals business performance. If your application goes down, business will underperform. IoT ties applications and devices together.


An example is of a Fitbit, which can track your vital metrics like how many miles you walked or your heartrate. Imagine that this information is somewhere, and an insurance company links your unified ID to your Fitbit metrics, letting you know if your premium should go up or down based on how healthy you are. Even more applications are going to be developed to support IoT in this way that further assists people and brands.


What are Riverbed’s further expansion plans?

We have a mission as a company to ensure that we are providing our customers with a platform that gives them optimal business performance. In order to do that, we have to enable them with three capabilities. The first is for them to have complete visibility on their network and applications, because when they see and know what’s happening on their networks, they will be able to prevent issues that could damage their business. Secondly, we help them optimize, meaning we enable applications moving into the cloud to be enhanced. In the past that used to be only on premise. Whatever is in your data center would get optimized by a wide-area network. Today, we’re trying to take that to the cloud. Last but not least, we’re giving customers control. By doing so, we simplifying the way the manage their infrastructure. Between these three capabilities, our mission is to be in every single government or enterprise infrastructure, whether traditional or cloud computed. We are doubling down on Saudi Arabia, expanding into East and West Africa, and we have just increased our investment in Turkey. Riverbed right now is experiencing a high growth momentum.


About Taj Elkhayat

Taj Elkhayat is the Regional Vice President for Middle East and Africa at Riverbed Technology. His core responsibilities include expanding Riverbed's penetration in new markets and industry verticals, growing its regional footprint, deepening engagement with channel partners, and securing the company's position as a key technology provider for the hybrid enterprise. Having previously served as Riverbed's regional General Manager and subsequently its Managing Director, Taj set in motion Riverbed's aggressive expansion strategy and successfully enhanced synergy between the professional services, marketing, technical, sales and channel teams. Taj brings more than 15 years of regional sales, channel and executive management experience to Riverbed, and has played key roles in growing and scaling both emerging and Fortune 500 technology companies in the region. His prior experience includes senior leadership positions at Juniper, Microsoft, Compaq Computer Corporations and IBM in the Middle East and the United States.



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